Battery Operated Systems for Community Outreach
For decades war has been raging in Northern Uganda. With civil casualties ranging in the hundred thousands, thousands of child abductions and many millions of refugees, this war has been labeled to be “the world’s most forgotten humanitarian disaster”. Today, in total a number of 53 IDP camps (Internally Displaced Persons Camps) provide the safety of shelter for approximately 2 million war refugees who live under inhumane conditions in total poverty. But projects are being setup to better the lives of these people and aim to develop a prosperous future for them.
BOSCO (Battery Operated Systems for Community Outreach) is such a project initiative that aims to give these IDP’s a voice; a chance to access and share information, and the possibility to connect to others and the rest of the world through the use of ICT. In short, the project provides internet access and VOIP (Voice Over IP) telephone access to, at the moment, 20 of the 53 IDP camps in Northern Uganda.
A common problem noted by Kevin Baily is that when supporting development through ICT, most of the time:
- Schools and IDP’s have no access to the power grid
- Computers they get are produced in 1990s and consume large amounts of energy which schools and IDP’s cannot afford
- Regions that are connected to the power grid don’t have the infrastructure supporting the use of the computer and internet, this is like “providing a car without wheels”.
But BOSCO provides means for a sustainable ICT infrastructure by providing low-power PCs that can run on a 12 volt battery charged by a small solar panel and by transmitting the internet signal over radio waves that can reach to places 60 miles from the central hub. Next to the technological support for the ICT infrastructure needed to accomplish the project, BOSCO also provides a training program that educates the local community in using the ICTs to “articulate and communicate their own needs better than any outside actor”.
They have developed a web 2.0 style strategy in providing these means for education. The educational model consists of the following steps:
- It starts with the formation small user groups willing to learn the uses of the computer and the internet to gain competence
- They get email and gain access to the BOSCO intranet and are encouraged to post pictures, write blogs and create educational content to the BOSCO Wikispace. This space is accessible to children and adults in schools, community centers and IDP camps involved with BOSCO.
- Collaborators from the rest of Uganda and across the entire world get the opportunity to log onto the wikispace to view and share user content created on the Wikispace.
- Collaborator input is linked back to the volunteer groups and the North Ugandan Users of the space, creating a circle of information interaction.
This initiative connects both people in the most impoverished rural areas of Uganda to the rest of the world and the other way around. Giving the people in those places voices to be heard across the entire globe, giving them the means to communicate their needs, questions, and thoughts. Giving them the ability to access, create and share information, and next to that providing the world with the awareness of their living standards and ways of life.
See here an inspiring segment from Global Challenges aired by CNN International, about the impact of a BOSCO related ICT installation in rural Uganda.